Rosenfeld, Herbert Alexander (1910-1986)

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Psychoanalyst Herbert Alexander Rosenfeld was born in Nuremberg, Germany, on July 2, 1910, and died in London on October 27, 1986.

Rosenfeld came from a middle-class Jewish family. He studied medicine at several German universities and became interested in psychiatry while at Munich University, from which he graduated in 1934. In 1935, due to the anti-Jewish racial laws, Rosenfeld emigrated to England, where he worked in several hospitals after having taken all his medical examinations again in Glasgow. During this period he became interested in the possibility of treating severely psychotic patients using psychotherapy instead of drugs. In 1942 he began his training analysis with Melanie Klein at the British Psycho-Analytical Society in London. He qualified as an associate member in 1945, became a full member in 1948 and a training analyst in 1949. In 1972 he became a F. R. C. Psych, fellow of the Royal College of Psychology.

For decades until his death, Rosenfeld practiced in London and taught at the Institute of Psycho-Analysis as well as abroad, being particularly interested in the psychoanalytic treatment of psychotic and severely disturbed patients. Together with Wilfred Bion and Hanna Segal, he widened the teaching of Melanie Klein and became a world-wide acknowledged authority in his field. In 1947, using the clinical material from his first training case, he published his first psychoanalytical contribution, "Analysis of a Schizophrenic State of Depersonalisation." The case became one of the landmarks in the history of the psychoanalytical treatment of psychosis, because it was the first case of an adult psychotic patient being successfully treated by a purely interpretative psychoanalytic method. In this paper Rosenfeld used Klein's seminal concept of projective identification, which he widened and clarified in successive papers.

Another important observation already present in his first paper was that of transference psychosis, which Rosenfeld differentiated from that of transference neuroses in order to describe the massive projection of unconscious fantasies of the psychotic patient on the analyst and the primitive nature of his object relations.

Another important paper related to the problems faced in treating psychotic patients was Rosenfeld's research into what he called "confusional states" (1949). Although mainly related to processes characteristic of chronic schizophrenia, Rosenfeld's observations help to better understand the problem of the impossibility or difficulty in normal splitting between bad and good aspects of the self and of the external and internal objects which massively characterize chronic schizophrenia but to a certain degree can be found even in less disturbed patients.He collected his first set of papers in 1965 in a book Psychotic States, which soon became a classic. Later, Rosenfeld became increasingly interested in the study and treatment of narcissistic disturbances and personalities. Particularly important is his paper "A Clinical Approach to the Psychoanalytic Theory of the Life and Death Instincts: An Investigation into the Aggressive Aspects of Narcissism," published in 1971, where he stressed the link between narcissism and the death drive.

During the last years of his life Rosenfeld became interested in problems related to the difficulties in communication and the impasse in the psychoanalytic treatment of severely and less severely disturbed patients, and on the role played by the analyst in creating those impasses. (See Impasse and Interpretation, published in 1986.)

Riccardo Steiner

See also: Alcoholism; Envy; Infantile psychosis; Narcissism; Projective identification; Paranoid position; Paranoid-schizoid position; Psychotic transference; Schizophrenia.


Green, André. (1976). Un, autre, neutre: Valeurs narcissiques du même. In Narcissisme de vie, narcissisme de mort (pp 31-79). Paris: Minuit.

Kernberg, Otto F. (1989). Impasse and interpretation by Herbert Rosenfeld. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 70, 173-177.

Segal, Hanna, and Steiner, Riccardo. (1987). H. A. Rosenfeld. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 68, 415-419.

Steiner, John. (1993). Psychic retreats. London and New York: Routledge.

Steiner, Riccardo. (1989). On narcissism: The Kleinian approach. In Otto F. Kernberg (Ed.), Narcissistic Personality Disorder, vol. 12 (pp. 741-770). Psychiatric Clinics of North America.

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Rosenfeld, Herbert Alexander (1910-1986)

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